Invisible, Inc.

Invisible Inc is a turn-based strategy stealth game. It takes the isometric run/gun/hack of Shadowrun and combines with it with a healthy dose of stealth to create a captivatingly tense and rewarding game. However, there are a few possible interface improvements hiding just behind that server in the corner.

The visibility display in Invisible Inc. That half-red square ahead of my agent on the left: is it visible to the guards?

Vision Display

One key display in Invisible Inc is the vision of enemy guards and cameras. This is drawn as a cone with striped shading and straight edges, with red for visible-to-enemy, and yellow for hidden-from-view, as you can see in the screenshot above. In principle this is good, but there’s a few places it gets awkward. For one, it’s not very clear what happens on squares with partial shading. Look at that screenshot above; is the square immediately in front of my agent (the black and white outlined woman) seen by the guards or not? For that matter, what about the square she is standing on? The answer is that the square in front of her is not viewable, but this cone display makes it hard to tell that. The interface compensates by displaying a mouse-over message which clears things up, but you do end up spending a bit of time mousing around to look at this display while planning your move. I think I would just go for full-shading on squares that are visible and no shading on ones that are invisible.

Additionally, the display can become visually quite noisy, between the vision display, the movement overlay and other displays (such as guard interest). This can make it hard to tell which squares are visible:

A busy little room. It can get quite hard to tell what is happening.

A busy little room. It can get quite hard to tell what is happening.

Some of these problems are hard to avoid; there’s just a lot of status to be displayed. The red triangles show you where all the guards are, but I think the guards, the main enemies in the game, could still be displayed more prominently. A colour overlay that lies in front of the scenery (as you get in the Left 4 Dead games) would help the guards show up better. For example, did you easily notice the guard just behind the door post above (there’s two), or the pale guard just to the right of my agent (again, the black and white woman).

One of the signs of a busy interface is that there are two alternate view modes; one to not display the walls at full height and one to show the level more clearly:

The alternate view, more clearly showing scenery and enemies.

The alternate view, more clearly showing scenery and enemies.

In this view, the layout of the level is much clearer, with all the scenery boiled down to little boxes, making it much clearer which squares are and are not accessible, and also the enemies show up more clearly. This view is probably more usable in most instances than the normal view, but it looks much worse. The game has to trade off aesthetics against usability, and this alternate view is an admission that the game can’t have its cake and eat it. All things considered, the interface has a lot of information to show, and it does look good, so having to sometimes use this alternate view is not the worst compromise to make.

Context Actions

One excellent interface feature in Invisible Inc are the contextual buttons. In many interfaces for such games, like XCOM, you first click on the action you want (or use a hotkey) and then click on your target. But Invisible Inc puts up contextual buttons on each object/person you can interact with this turn:

Invisible Inc offers a set of context buttons for items in the world (with details on mouse-over) which make it very quick to take your turn, mixing moving and interacting without ever having to move the mouse cursor from the central area of the screen.

It may look a little busy, but it makes life so much quicker. Your mouse never leaves the area you’re focusing on, and you can quickly select your intended action with a single click. For example, above I have the option to knock out the guard, steal from him, or observe him to reveal his movement pattern for next turn. I can peek around the door to my left or shut it, and I can also observe the other guard.

I really hope other turn-based games adopt this approach, where appropriate. The only slight drawback is that the click targets are just slightly small, meaning that it requires slightly precise mousing, which can be difficult on a touchpad, for example. I complained previously that Shadowrun: Dragonfall had tiny click targets, but the two situations are slightly different. If in Dragonfall you misclicked, you could send your agent moving across the map disastrously. Invisible Inc would be ruined by this kind of problem, but it uses left-click select, right-click move, which nicely avoids these problems. The main danger in Invisible Inc is instead that with the buttons so close together in a row (see above), you run the risk of clicking the wrong one. However, I haven’t found this to be a problem while playing.

There is one small feature with this display which doesn’t quite hold together. Almost all of the action buttons are properly contextual; you click open-door on a door to open that specific door, you click KO or observe on an enemy guard to affect that guard in particular. But it turns out that the peek action depends only on where your agent is. Although there are two peek actions shown below (the blue square), one for each door, they do exactly the same thing: peek in both doors. Here, the interface does a poor job of making the game mechanics clear.

One peek button (blue square) on each door, but both buttons perform the same single action.

One peek button (blue square) on each door, but both buttons perform the same single action.

Movement

Your attention in a computer interface usually coincides with the position of the mouse cursor. If something catches your attention, you often move the mouse cursor there, either because you want to interact with it, or just because subconsciously we often position the cursor near our focus. For example, when you are trying to decide where your agent should move, you move the mouse cursor around the possible locations, trying to weigh up which destination is best. This depends on several things; the cover available, which is displayed at the mouse cursor, and how many action points (AP) you’ll have left, which is displayed above your agent’s head. If you are trying to move far, you have to constantly flick your attention back and forth between your agent and the destination, which is very irritating. And if not zoomed out enough, the two may not even fit on the same screen. It would be better to display the remaining action points (post move) above the move destination, not above the agent.

You are moving the mouse on the left to pick a square to move to, but your prospective remaining action points are shown on the right, half a screen away.

You are moving the mouse on the left to pick a square to move to, but your prospective remaining action points are shown on the right, half a screen away.

Augments

Your agents in Invisible Inc can have augments installed, Deus Ex-style. Look at the screenshot below. To make the decision between installing the offered augment, and adding a new empty augment slot, we need to know one thing: how many augment slots does the agent currently have free? It’s the key question here, and the interface makes several mistakes in presenting the information. The text on the right tells you that you need a free augment slot. It could tell you how many slots are free (or e.g. “Slots used: 2 of 3”), and it should disable the button if there are no augment slots free. Instead, the button is always enabled and just issues a warning if you press it. This is the interface being an arse: if you knew the button wouldn’t do anything, why did you let me press it?

The augment  installer. How many augment slots are available?

The augment installer. How many augment slots are available?

Part of the reason it doesn’t tell you in text how many augment slots are used is that it should be clear from the left-hand display. It’s at least fairly clear that two slots are in use. But how many slots are free to be used? Is it 0, 1, or 2? Place your bets…

The answer is 1, which is probably the answer you least expected. Go back to that screenshot, and note that the bottom-right square has empty edges, but the top-right square has semi-transparent solid edges. That’s the difference between an available empty slot (top right) and a space for a further empty slot (bottom right). Eugh. I think there’s a fairly simple fix, too; just solid-fill the unavailable slot:

Simple suggested improvement: fill in the unavailable augment slot.

Simple suggested improvement: fill in the unavailable augment slot.

I think that’s reasonably clear: the agent currently has two augments, space for one more at the moment, and at most can have four.

And As For The Game…

Invisible Inc had me totally hooked. I raced through completing the three standard difficulty modes (getting slightly lucky with Expert) and then still kept on playing to complete Time Attack. Its stealth is very tense, requiring the right balance of sneaking, running and hand-to-hand knockouts, where guns and killing feel like a clumsy solution. One of the great satisfying joys, evident below, is in finding yourself in a near impossible situation then somehow using just the right combination of items and actions to pull all your agents through and complete the level. Highly recommended.

Three agents alive, with a combined total of five guards ready to shoot them dead. My penultimate turn on my successful Expert run.

Review note: I played the launch version of Invisible Inc on PC in May 2015.

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